Roman Art, Architecture, and Drama

Rome left a vast legacy of art and architecture across its empire. To a large degree, Roman art and architecture were based on Greek and Etruscan models. However, as with their literature, Romans adapted these influences to develop their own style.

Roman Art Expresses Realism

The Romans imported Greek statues to decorate their homes, gardens, and public monuments. Roman sculptors adapted the realistic style of Hellenistic works, showing subjects with warts or veins in place. The Romans also broke new ground, creating portraits in stone or on coins that revealed a person's character. A statue might capture an expression of smugness or haughty pride.

Some Roman sculpture was more idealistic, in the tradition of the classic Greek statues of gods and athletes. Sculptors transformed Augustus, who was neither handsome nor imposing, into a symbol of power and leadership.

Wealthy Romans displayed fine works of art, such as colorful frescoes, or murals, in their homes. They also hired artists to depict scenes from daily life or Roman myths in mosaics, or pictures made from chips of colored stone. Examples of Roman murals, mosaics, and other decorative items were preserved in Pompeii, a city buried by volcanic ash after Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79.

Roman Theater

The Romans loved to attend theater. Some playwrights, like the Roman philosopher and dramatist Seneca, based their plays, such as Hercules Furens, on myths and legends. Roman audiences enjoyed comedies, including those by Plautus. His comedies were based on Roman life and featured songs and dances, along with slapstick and mistaken identity.

Roman Architecture

From England to Spain, to North Africa and the Middle East, Roman buildings still stand today. Roman architecture combined both Greek and Roman elements. Roman builders used Greek columns, but where the Greeks aimed for simple elegance, the Romans emphasized grandeur. Immense palaces, temples, stadiums, and victory arches stood as monuments to Roman power.

The Romans improved on building devices such as columns and arches. They invented concrete, which was used as a building material, and developed the rounded dome to roof large spaces. The most famous domed structure is the Pantheon, a temple that honored all the Roman gods. It still stands in Rome today.

Mosaic of men putting on costumes and masks in a decorated room.

Attending the theater was a popular pastime in Rome. Here, actors don costumes and masks before a performance.

Another famous Roman building, the Colosseum, was a public arena that stood 12 to 15 stories high (159 feet) and could hold as many as 50,000 spectators. A system of tunnels and stairs allowed crowds to exit the building quickly. Many of today's sports stadiums have similar features.

Roman advances in architecture, such as the use of concrete, arches, and domes, were passed to other cultures. First in Europe and later in North America, builders looked to Roman models. In Washington, D.C., public buildings such as the Jefferson Memorial and the Capitol use elements of Roman architecture.

Roman Achievements in Science and Engineering

The Romans generally left scientific research to the Greeks, who were citizens of the Roman empire. While Greek scientists and mathematicians sought to learn more about the world, the Romans put science to practical uses. They used Greek principles to construct roads and bridges and to make advances in medical care.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments